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What is a commercial lawyer, and what does an in- house commercial lawyer do?

The first question is what sort of work does a commercial lawyer do? The responsibilities of a commercial lawyer are to use business and contract law to assist with certain business transactions and arrangements to ensure that the client's interests are met and risks are managed.

A business usually requires the help of a commercial lawyer when entering into a new arrangement where they need to understand their legal position under that arrangement. This is usually structured within an agreement between the parties.

What is an example of an arrangement where a commercial lawyer would be instructed?

Case study: As a result of Covid, Company A has decided that they would like to move out their office and let their employees work remotely from home. Let’s take this in turn to think about the different types of agreements that Company A will need to consider:

  • Lease (Property Agreement): Company A will need to terminate the existing lease for the office

  • Employment Agreements: Company A will need to update all its employment contracts to allow the employees to work remotely

  • Goods & Services Agreements: Company A will need to purchase new equipment for the employees to be able to work from home (laptops, monitors, headsets etc.)

  • Software Agreements: Company A will need to purchase new software which will facilitate employees to collaborate remotely (messaging services, video conferencing etc.)

All of the above agreements will need to be carefully considered as Company A will not want to be in breach of any agreement and will want to ensure that its employees are adequately equipped to perform their job effectively.

What does a typical day look like for a commercial lawyer? A typical day for a commercial lawyer would consist of liaising with clients to understand what they require from their arrangements, then drawing up and drafting commercial agreements. Once the agreement is drafted, it is shared with the other party and then the negotiations begin. It may also consist of managing the signature process once the agreement is finalised. As you can see from the case study above, you need a contract for pretty much anything.

What type of law do commercial lawyers practice? Commercial lawyers mainly use contracts law and business law. However, it is important to note that for in-house commercial lawyers, this can range considerably, depending on the type of company they work for and the type of work their client requires. This can extend to (including but not limited to) property law, regulatory law, IP etc.

What is the difference between a commercial lawyer in a law firm and an in-house commercial lawyer? Typically, when a company needs legal advice on a particular matter, they would approach a law firm and ask them to review an agreement. Some companies (more common in larger organisations - but not always), will have their own legal team who undertake this work themselves. This means that an in- house commercial lawyer has one “client” - the business they work for, whilst a lawyer in a law firm (known as a private practice lawyer) will have many of different clients.

What are the advantages of being an in-house commercial lawyer? One main advantage of being an in-house commercial lawyer is that you get involved with many types of projects and areas of law, hence in-house commercial lawyers are called “generalists”- they acquire “general” knowledge over many areas of law. This contrasts to a private practice lawyers who are called “specialists”- as they usually specialise in a certain area or a “niche” (very specific) area of law. It is important to note that in-house commercial lawyers can also reach out to specialist private practice lawyers for niche or specialist legal advice.

Another advantage is that by working with one “client”, you have the ability to really learn about the business you work for and have the opportunity to build up your relationships with the stakeholders you work with.

What skills are required for an in-house commercial lawyer? As you would expect from most lawyers, the typical skills required for an in-house commercial lawyer includes negotiation, communication, attention to detail and problem solving. A lot of the time it is about making sure that your client has the best options to solve an issue that has been raised. Being able to manage your clients is also a very important skill to have. There will be times where you have more difficult clients, and your role as a lawyer will be to think fast and find a solution to the client’s problem.


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